Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arts Festival Goes Back to Nature Works Embracing the Natural World Thread through Edinburgh's Annual Gala

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arts Festival Goes Back to Nature Works Embracing the Natural World Thread through Edinburgh's Annual Gala

Article excerpt

Some Edinburgh International Festivals have had a planned theme running through them. One year, for instance, the three-week cultural extravaganza, which claims to be the largest arts festival in the world, gave memorable attention to Viennese music, drama, and art.

But recently, conscious themes have largely given place to potpourri programs. Such mixed bags, however, sometimes throw up their own themes by chance.

This year's festival, which began Aug. 10 and runs through Aug. 30, includes companies from Australia, Spain, France, and China making their first appearances in the United Kingdom. And in performances I saw during the first half, one theme kept surfacing: the world of primitive nature. Arguably, all art is inspired by nature, but it is often filtered through urban sensibilities, or concerned with human nature rather than with wood or swamp, weather and season, and the primal rhythms, forces, and structures of the natural world. 'The Rite of Spring' The opening concert started it all. A fierce, entirely 20th-century program, conducted by Pierre Boulez, it was played by musicians none of whom are older than 26 - the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. On the program were Ravel, Bartok, four short but unforgettable "Notations" by Boulez himself, and a crowning, pungently disciplined rendition of Stravinsky's shattering classic "The Rite of Spring." Perhaps this performance leaned toward the intellectual rather than the primeval side of the work, but its primitivism was as eruptively compelling as ever, sweeping and jerking toward its inevitable whimper and final bang. It is a terrible, violent work, a ritual beating and smiting of the earth. But the unstoppable burgeoning of nature also seems to inspire it directly. And it still does, without sentimentality or cliche, more than 80 years after its first performance. Then, in 1913 Paris, it was a scandal, drowned out by abuse and chaos. Today it seems a thing of enormous elation. The marvelous Edinburgh performance set me thinking: Perhaps we have all grown too polite today, too respectful of avant-garde art forms that intrinsically cause outrage. We sit. We applaud. Where are all the wonderful catcalls of yesteryear? None greeted "Fish." This was a world premiere by an Australian Aboriginal company, Bangarra Dance Theatre. Reaction to this fusion of Aboriginal traditions and modern dance was enthusiastic, partly because the audience was first morally cornered into a politically correct frame of mind by a mini-lecture on the shameful record of white Australians' mistreatment of the country's varied indigenous population. Stephen Page's work was sincere and commanded respect, if not easy comprehension. It was a kind of rite of passage in three sections: "The Swamp, the River, the Ocean," we are told by the program. …

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